With Her Fists – A hard hitting book in all the wrong places

I love writing and reading but sometimes, it is a hard job. I was contacted almost two weeks ago by the author to review this book. I’ll be quite honest, I was impressed and eager to read a book by a self-published author, epsically with such an interesting premise.

A champion fighter.

Danger at every turn.

And a book who’s writing, pacing, and dialogue drove me half mad and half asleep.

Everything about this book was awful to read. The action scenes felt like I was reading a script of some bloody fight happening while the dialogue and bits of Spanish peppered throughout the text made me roll my eyes due to their awkward placement. It was a painful stereotype that punched me repeatedly in the face.

Overall, the plot was boring and I couldn’t see why I should care about the characters at all. They were nothing more but flimsy cardboard cutouts of characters that if handled correctly could be interesting. The way they spoke and thought ecohed every ham-fisted attempted by bad writers everywhere to be edgy.

Newsflash! The audience doesn’t want edgy. We want authentic and there is nothing authentic about this book or it’s characters. “With Her Fists” promised to be a thrilling knock-out, but all I wanted it to do was put me out of my misery.

“The Adventurous Princess” Review – A Failure of Fairytales

Once upon a time, a publisher reached out to a blogger and asked her to review a short collection of fairytales. She agreed but unlike the fairytales, the review did not end in Happily Ever After.

Originally, I had planned to divide the stories up and given them their own separate review. However, due to time constraints, I’ll just get right to it. The “Adventurous Princess and other Feminist Fairytales” is an example of what not to do with a fairytale retelling.

The stories we all know by heart. Cinderella is abused and wants to go to the ball, the Beast is cursed, Snow White’s jealous Stepmother tries to kill her, and the Little Mermaid falls in love with a person whom she can’t be with. These stories have survived throughout the years and through the years have been retold, redone, and re-imagined by creators both great and small. Barrow is no exception when it comes to fairytale remakes but what she does is remarkable. She misses the point completely about the soul of the story and instead of going with the actual moral, puts her own “feminist” spin on it. Her reasoning behind doing this? She “believed that the traditional fairytales I grew up with…don’t truly represent the society we live in” and “The heroes of these stories are usually either expressly or implicitly straight, white, young, able-bodied and conventionally beautiful.”

I do agree with her that the traditional fairytales don’t fully represent the society that we live in but when one remembers that they were created over a hundred years ago, it makes sense that somethings no longer hold up. Time change, social views get updated, and life goes on. You can’t be upset that a piece didn’t age well. What’s more is that her other complaints about the heroes are straight, white, young, able-bodied, and conventionally beautiful do have some weight but I should mention that most of the heroes don’t have a lot of detail to go with them. In “Cinderella”, we are told that the stepsisters are ‘beautiful and fair of face but vile and black of heart’. As for Cindy herself, we are told that she is ‘dusty and dirty’. We are not told what she looks like except that she is beautiful and as everyone knows beauty is in the eye of the beholder. She could have lovely blonde hair or kinky curls. Her eyes may be blue or a stunning green. There is no description to Cinderella. She is meant to fulfill what the reader thinks beauty is. The same thing can be said for her age. We don’t know how old she is. We don’t get much in the way of physical description in the traditional fairytales unless it’s important like the story of “The Girl Without Hands” or “One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes” or the “Constant Tin Soldier”.

And as for not having able-bodied characters in fairytales, I’ve got some news for you. The “Girl Without Hands” doesn’t have any hands and the “Constant Tin Solider” is missing a leg! And they are the main characters of their stories and they are badass. The Girl Without Hands is too good for the devil to take and the Constant Tin Soldier goes through a harrowing journey to return to his love. True, there isn’t enough representation for disabled characters but to say that isn’t any is wiping away the characters that do bring representation.

The idea behind it, giving fairytales a modern update and fleshing out the characters, is noble but poorly executed. Barrows has attempted to merge the old school style of story telling with contemporary ideals and morals only to fail in both regards. The writing is dull and patronizing and neither Barrow nor her publisher know the intended audience.

As for the remake of the stories themselves, they are but a shadow of what they once were and this is largely due to Barrow’s attempt to bring in a
“feminist” and “modern” morals. The Princess and the Pea
was meant to poke fun at the ridiculous standards that the upper class held
upon themselves to prove their worth. Instead, we get an idiot prince who lacks a spine, a brain, or any sense of what he wants to do. Barrow’s Cinderella is weak and rather stupid in her tale rather than the woman who took risks and left her abusive family once she had her freedom. The Little Mermaid who’s entire story and moral is about unrequited love never tries to go after her love and learns that important lesson. The Sea Witch scares her off with some rather ham-fisted dialogue about loving who you are that mocks the reader’s intelligence. 

Beauty and the Beast is par for the course but in this case, Beauty has a
cane. I’m torn on this because I don’t know whether not mentioning Beauty’s
cane is meant to show that being disabled is no big deal but she did dedicate a
line to show that Cinderella is old and suffers from ageism so why not explain
how Beauty got her cane? If you didn’t have Barrow’s illustrations, you would
have never known that Beauty was disabled or that Cinderella was black, or
about half the reasons she wanted to make fairytales more inclusive.

At the end of the day, Barrow’s characters are as lifeless as the paper they
lie on. Her writing does not know whether it wants to pander to young children or appeal to teen or young adults so, it alienates all three. The dialogue is too modern to fit in with her attempt to mimic Anderson or the Brothers Grimm’s iconic style. I wouldn’t call this work empowering to women or feminist. Rather, I would say an attempt was made in good faith but if you need to stick on the cover of your book that it is “feminist” then you have failed. It is pandering to a new generation of women, LGBT+, and minorities who are once again fighting to save and expand their rights. They along with everyone else deserves a fairytale that they can see themselves in but they will not find it in Barrow’s novel. 

“The Adventurous Princess” Review – A Failure of Fairytales

Once upon a time, a publisher reached out to a blogger and asked her to review a short collection of fairytales. She agreed but unlike the fairytales, the review did not end in Happily Ever After.

If there’s one thing that you must know about me, it’s the fact that I love fairytales. The adventure, the romance, the struggle between good and evil! I love it all. They are a fascinating part of our culture and a reflection of our morals. Which is why I was pretty psyched to have a chance to review “The Adventurous Princess and Other Feminist Fairytales”. The idea of some of the most beloved fairytales of all time getting a 21st century spin immediately appealed to me.

Some background information before we begin, the stories in this book are plucked from Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, Charles Perrault, and a legend that’s been passed for centuries and doesn’t have a true author to claim to. Many of these stories were put to paper roughly two hundred years ago but they were kept alive by oral tradition for centuries.

Since it’s oral tradition, the stories have shifted and changed to reflect the culture, ideas, and qualities of the time. Things have been cut out or removed depending on the speaker but one thing always stayed the same: the moral. The purpose of a fairytale was to give a moral in a way that was easy for people to remember.

Author Erin-Claire Barrows, an Australian writer and illustrator, has decided to put her spin on these well-loved stories in her book, “The Adventurous Princess and Other Feminist FairyTales”.  The stories she has chosen are as follows: The Princess and the Pea, Cinderella, The Swan Maiden, Beauty and the Beast, The Frog Prince, Snow White, Allerleirauh, the Goose Girl, The Little Mermaid.

Because each story has been revised to fit with modern times, I will be doing a mini review for each one and then an overall review of the collection.

Without further delay, let’s begin!

The Princess and the Pea

We start off the story with an upset King and Queen who are worried about their son, the Prince. They are given no names. The King and Queen want their son to focus on warfare, the state of affairs within the kingdom, and taxes. They are fine with adventure but as long as it’s for a goal. The Prince doesn’t really care about any of that and prefers to “play his lute while imagining the lands beyond the sea and the strange creatures that might live there” or “write a story about it”.

Honestly, I can’t say that I blame the King or Queen for being upset with their son. A ruler should know about what wars are being waged, the state the kingdom is in, and taxes. The Prince is totally checked out and I can’t root for him as a protagonist when he’s neglecting his duties.

Eventually, the titular princess shows up. She’s soaking wet from the storm and needs a place to stay. The King and Queen let her stay, have dinner with them, and show her to her bedroom. The Prince explains to the unnamed princess about the pea under the mattress scheme. The princess finds it ridiculous and instead of sleeping, she stays up with the Prince all night telling him her adventures. The Princess encourages the Prince to go and have his own adventures but instead he laments, “Oh no, I couldn’t. I have to stay here and practice all manner of dull and princely things.”

Ah, yes, the dull and princely things that go into running a country. How tragic for our hero. I don’t like the Prince. Not everyone wants to be royalty but his parents are cool with him going on adventures and in a land wherein dragons do exist and there are people in danger, I don’t see why he hasn’t tried to go out and do it or why he’s so reluctant to know how to keep his kingdom running smoothly.

When morning comes, the Princess fakes her bad night’s sleep and the Queen and King are overjoyed at it. They deem her worthy to wed the Prince and welcome her into the family! But there’s a twist. The Princess explains that her family has their own standard when it comes to princes and the Prince has not gone on enough adventures to qualify for her hand in marriage. The King and Queen do acknowledge that the Prince hasn’t done anything adventurous.

She refuses marriage to the Prince and rides off while the Prince decides to finally go on an adventure to parts unknown without a goal in mind.

My Thoughts

I don’t have the slightest clue as to why I’m supposed to root for the Prince or sympathize with him. He doesn’t care about his duties as a ruler and finds the whole idea of running his own kingdom to be dull. The Prince himself is equally dull having about as much of a personality as a single cell organism. The only things I do know about him is that he likes to imagine and play the lute which does not a personality make. Other than that, he makes no effort to take control of his own destiny or to change his life even though the means to do so are right in front of him.

His parents attempts to engage with him and show him the adventures of others is pitiable. They’re making an effort to try to get him to see that there is a very exciting world out there but alas, our flat Prince doesn’t really care about anything. Their push to have him marry a real princess feels less like trying to force him into marriage and more like a desperate attempt to make sure that the kingdom falls into safe hands since the Prince has no interest in it.

This tale isn’t modern, diverse, or feminist in any way with the sole exception of a black princess who shows up, tells a couple of stories, and then immediately moves on. The characters are boring, the plot is nonexistent, and for a fairytale, it’s got the basic tell tale marks but doesn’t do anything with it.

The original Princess and the Pea was about a prince who wanted to marry a true princess but didn’t know how to tell which one was a “true” princess. That’s when the pea comes into play because surely, going by all princess standards, a real princess would be able to feel it. The Prince gets an unexpected guest and although she doesn’t look like one, the woman proclaims herself to be a princess. He puts her to the test and to his surprise, she passes it! They marry and live happily ever after.

The moral of the story has been taken into different directions but I believe that the overall moral of the Princess and the Pea is actually a subtle jab at the lengths that royal families and other noble branches go to in order to prove that they are the real thing. Considering Anderson’s stance on the upper class and his own upbringing plagued by poverty, I would say that this is a fair assessment.

Comparing the two stories, the original and Barrow’s take on it, I would say the original is more modern than the remake. Making fun of the upper class has never gone out of style. There are still plenty of people who will whip out their ancestry charts and bloodlines to show who they are related to and how that makes them important.

The single upside to the story are the illustrations. They are beautiful but they aren’t enough to save the story. What’s more, if it weren’t for the illustrations, you wouldn’t have even known that the titular princess is black. She could have been Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian, or Polka Dot.

I understand the need and want to make a more diverse story to appeal to a wider audience, but the Princess and the Pea falls flat. There’s not enough character development for anyone, there’s not a single piece of dialogue or humor that’s great, and I still find myself questioning why I should care about the Prince, the protagonist of the story, at all. Overall, if there was a story here, I didn’t feel it.